Pasco County approved a contract for a new cell tower lease at Starkey Ranch District Park with Wireless Edge, at a greater distance and a higher rent than was initially proposed near Starkey Ranch K-8 School.
The lease is in conjunction with a P4 agreement between Pasco County, Pasco County Schools, Pasco County Libraries and a private developer.
The county board’s approval for the lease came during its Dec. 5 meeting, without a peep of public complaint.
That deal came after families battled with the Pasco County School Board over a proposed easement that would grant access to the proposed cell tower.
When families lost that battle, they set their sights on the Pasco County Commission, which was considering the actual lease for the tower, during the county board’s May 23 meeting.
Cell tower opponents turned out en masse.
They wore red, cited research and spoke passionately about their concerns of the potential negative health consequences that could result, if the cell tower was allowed so close to the school
During the board’s lunch break, Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey conferred with Keith Wiley, director of the county’s parks, recreation, and natural resources department.
After lunch, she reported that Wiley said an alternative location could be found at the park to accommodate the cell tower. The county also said it would share the proceeds from the leasing agreement with the school district, since that was part of the original plan.
The board then delayed the issue until it sought a new solicitation on the alternative location.
Andrew Baxter, director of facilities management, brought the staff’s recommendation to the board based on that new solicitation.
“The previous location would have allowed the siting to be at approximately 625 feet from the school. And the previous lease would have been with Vertex.
“The rent would have been $1,950 per month, with a 2% increase or $600 a month per sublease,” Baxter said.
“By going out and relocating this, we are now 2,348 feet from the nearest school building and 1,400 feet from the nearest housing location. So, we’re much further away from the school,” he said.
Under the new agreement, the tower will be located in the maintenance yard of Starkey District Park.
Wireless Edge, recommended by staff, offered better rates. Its lease will be for 27 years, with an option for four additional five-year terms, which is the same as Vertex had proposed.
The rent from Wireless Edge, however, is higher. It will be $2,251 per month, with a 2.5% annual increase, and $1,000 per month per sublease. Plus a bonus of $35,000 for each sublease after the first sublease,” Baxter said.
The cell tower will be a stealth pole, monopole, meaning that none of the antennas will be showing, Baxter said.
Starkey said she was happy to hear that.
She noted that companies have claimed that couldn’t be done because of the heat generated by the antennas.
But she said that she’s read research saying that stealth towers can be achieved because of new technology.
So, she told county staffers: “OK, staff, we’re not going to do those other ones anymore, where the arrays are on the outside.”
Commissioner Jack Mariano was pleased that a solution has been found.
“It’s great to see that no one’s here, compared to what we had before – 1,600 signatures,” Mariano said.
He credited county staff and the providers for working together.
But County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder pointed out: “The provider lost the contract.”
Like Mariano, Starkey said she’s pleased by the outcome.
“I got not one email of complaint,” Starkey said.
Published December 13, 2023